It‘s summertime in in the Adirondack town of Millers Kill, and temperatures are running high. Local activists are up in arms over a resort being built at the site of an old toxic waste dump. A series of violent homophobic assaults have left several men hospitalized. And Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson are discovering that it’s impossible to ignore the heat. When the resort developer, a gay man, is found brutally murdered, Clare and Russ will have to face up to their own past demons–and their present temptations–to sweat out the truth behind the killing.
“[Spencer-Fleming] pulls it off again.”
“The plot is complicated, and the ethical issues are even thornier. Wisely, Spencer-Fleming treats them with the same delicacy she extends to Clare’s forbidden love.”
—The New York Times
“Despite the brutal crimes, this is a quiet and civilized story just right for those who enjoy a modern take on the old-fashioned whodunit.”
—Rocky Mountain News
“Serious issues...add depth to the story. An exciting mountain rescue keeps the pages turning as the pace picks up at the end.”
“Even more action, more plot-twists, and more unconsummated romance than in Clare and Russ’s notable debut.”
“Spencer-Fleming’s second cozy-cum-thriller to feature the Reverend Clare Fergusson, an ex-army helicopter pilot turned Anglican priest, is every bit as riveting as her first, In the Bleak Midwinter (2002). A series of gay bashings, the discovery of PCBs in a local elementary school playground and a brutal murder heat up the Adirondack town of Millers Kill, N.Y., hotter than the July weather. Clare, rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, and the very much married police chief Russ Van Alstyne, who have spent the last six months avoiding each other in hopes of dispelling their mutual attraction, find themselves working together on a perilous murder investigation. With eloquent exposition and natural dialogue, the precisely constructed plot moves effortlessly to its dramatic conclusion. The poignant reflections of Clare and Russ as they examine their own hearts and struggle with their feelings never detract from the crime solving. Amid a host of memorable characters, Clare stands out, whether daring to drive a sports car instead of a safer four-wheel-vehicle or donning her vestments to perform the evening service of Compline in an empty church lit with candles. Not just fans of ecclesiastical mysteries will have reason to rejoice.”
© Reed Business Information, 2003.
Two gay men are brutally attacked in Spencer-Fleming’s second Reverend Clare Fergusson mystery. Clare, a former army helicopter pilot, now a priest at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in the small Adirondack town of Millers Kill, New York, feels the attacks are related, and the police should notify the community so people can protect themselves. Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne disagrees, wanting to avoid copycat crimes, and his refusal to act creates tension between the two, further complicated by their mutual attraction, although Russ is married. When a third man is killed, Clare launches her own investigation. Serious issues such as gay bashing and contamination of the town’s water supply with PCBs add depth to the story. An exciting mountain rescue keeps the pages turning as the pace picks up at the end. Clare’s army background and a plot framed by church rituals add interest to the series. Sue O’Brien
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.
Never mind whodunit. The burning question in Julia Spencer-Fleming's A Fountain Filled With Blood is how long the author can sustain the sexual tension between Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. Unlike those pro forma genre romances that only distract the principals from their crime solving, the dynamic between the headstrong heroine and the slow and steady lawman directly affects the way they react to a rash of attacks on gay residents of this Adirondacks tourist playground."
Clare grabs the moral high ground with her hell-for-leather crusade for full disclosure on the hate crimes. But her blunt truth-telling puts the wind up the developers of a luxury resort. The plot is complicated, and the ethical issues are even thornier. Wisely, Spencer-Fleming treats them with the same delicacy she extends to Clare's forbidden love.
- Marilyn Stasio, copyright 2003, The New York Times Book Review
The yahoos came by just after the dinner party let out. A few young punks - three or four, picked out as streaks of white in the cab and bed of an unremarkable-looking pick-up. Emil Dvorak was tucking a bottle of wine under his arm and reaching to shake his hosts’ hands when he heard the horn, haloowing down the Five Mile Road like a redneck hunting cry, and the truck flashed into view of the inn’s floodlights.
“Faggots!” Several voices screamed. “Burn in hell!” More obscene slurs were swallowed up in the night as the truck continued past. From their run in the back, the Inn’s dogs began barking in response, high-pitched and excited.
“Damnit,” Ron Handler said.
“Did you see the license plate this time?” Stephen Obrowski asked.
His partner shook his head. “Too fast. Too dark.”
“Has this happened before?” Emil shifted the bottle under his other arm. The Inn’s outdoor spotlight left him feeling suddenly exposed, his car brilliantly illuminated, his hosts’ faces clearly visible, as his must have been. His hand, he noticed, was damp. “Have you reported it?”
“It started a couple of weeks ago,” Steve said. “Probably kids let out of high school.”
“Released from county jail, more likely,” Ron said.
“We’ve told the police. The Inn’s on the random patrol list now.”
“Not that that helps,” Ron said. “The cops have better things to do than to catch gay- bashers out cruising for a good time. The only reason we got a few drive-bys in a patrol car is that the Inn is bringing in the precious turista dollar.”
“Tourism keeps Millers Kill afloat,” Emil said, “but Chief Van Alstyne’s a good man. He wouldn’t tolerate that trash no matter what business they were targeting.”
“I better call the station and let them know we’ve been harrassed again. Thank God our guests have already retired.” Ron squeezed Emil’s upper arm. “Thanks for coming. I’m sorry dinner had to end on such a sour note.” He disappeared behind the Inn’s ornate double door.
Steve peered up the road. “Are you going to be okay getting back home? I don’t like the idea of you all alone on the road with those thugs out there.”
Emil spread his arms. “Look at me. I’m a middle-aged guy driving a Chrysler with M.D. plates. What could be more mainstream?” He dropped his hand on Steve’s shoulder and shook him slightly. “I’ll be fine. Anyone comes after me, I’ll break his head open with this fine Chardonnay.”
“Don’t you dare. That bottle’s worth more than you on the open market.”
Emil laughed as they made their good-nights. Tucking the bottle under the passenger seat of his LeBaron convertible, he considered putting the top back up. He sighed. He knew he was getting old when a couple of drunken kids yelling out of the darkness made him this nervous. To hell with them. It wasn’t worth a twenty-minute struggle with the roof or missing fresh air blowing around him on a hot June night.
The high-Victorian architecture of the inn dwindled behind him as he drove east on Five Mile Road. He turned right onto Route 121, two country lanes bordered on one side by Millers Kill, the river that gave the town its name, and by dairy farms and corn fields on the other. In the dark of the new moon, the maples and sycamores lining the sides of the road were simply shades of gray on black, so the round outline of his headlights, picking out the violent green of the summer leaves, made him think of scuba diving in the Carribean, black blinkers around his periphial vision, gloom and color ahead.
Twin blurs of red and white darted into view and for a second his mind saw coral fish. He blinked, and they resolved themselves into rear lights. Backing into the road, slewing sidewise. Christ! He slammed on his brakes and instinctively jerked the wheel to the right, knowing a heartbeat too late that was wrong, wrong, wrong as the car sawed around in a swooping, tail-forward circle and crunched to a stop with a jolt that whipsawed Dvorak’s head from the steering wheel to his seat.
The smell of the Chardonnay was everywhere, sickening in excess. Steve would kill him for breaking that bottle. His ears rung. He drew a deep breath and caught it, stopped by the ache in his chest. Contusion from the shoulder restraint. He touched the back of his neck. Probably cervical strain as well. Behind him, some awful hip-hop non-song thumped over a gaggle of voices. He turned off the engine. Better go see if anyone needed any medical attention before he took down the driver’s insurance and sued him into next week. The idiot.
A door thumped shut at the same time he heard the hard flat thwack of shoes or boots hitting the macadam. Glass crunched. “Look what we got!” A young man’s voice, taut with excitement. “We caught us a faggot!” Another thump, more crunching, several whoops almost drowning out the stifling beat of the bass. Dvorak’s hand froze on the door handle. The idiot. He was the idiot. He lunged for his cell phone, had the power on and actually hit a nine and a one before the blow hit across his forearm, tumbling the phone from his grasp and making him gasp from the flaring pain. A long arm reached down to scoop the phone off the passenger seat.
There were hands on his jacket, tugging him sideways, and he watched as the cell phone arced through the edge of his headlights into the thick young corn. “Queerbait! You like to suck dick? You like little boys?” He twisted against the hands, groping for his car keys, his heart beating twice as fast as the sullen song, thinking he could still get out of this, still get away, until one of them hit him in the temple hard, supraorbital fracture, the part of him that could never stop being a doctor thought, as his vision grayed and the key ring jingled out of reach.
In front of him, the headlights illuminated a swath of achingly green corn, cut off from the shoulder of the road by a sagging fence of barbed wire twisted around rough posts. His door was yanked open, and he wanted to think of Paul, to think of his children, but the only thing in his head was how the fence looked like the one on the cover of TIME, like the one Matthew Shepard died on, and he was going to die now, too, and it was going to hurt more than anything.
“C’mere, faggot,” one of them said as he was dragged from his seat. And the pain began. “This stuff is going to kill us all!”
“Why are we having this meeting? This problem was supposed to have been resolved back in seventy-seven.”
“I want to know if my grandchildren are safe!”
The mayor of Millers Kill squeezed the microphone base as if he could choke off the rising Babel with one hand. “People, please. Please! Let’s try to keep some sense of order here! I know it’s hot and I know you’re worried. Skiff and I will answer your questions the best we can. Meanwhile, sit down, raise your hand and wait your turn.” Jim Cameron glared at his constituents until the more excitable ones grudgingly lowered themselves back into their overly-warm metal folding chairs.
The Reverend Clare Fergusson, priest of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, slid sideways an inch in her own chair. She had come to her first alderman’s meeting with the nursing director of the Millers Kill Infirmary, and though she was glad for the expert commentary, Paul Foubert was a good six feet four and close to three hundred pounds. He not only spread across his undersized chair onto hers, he also radiated heat. She pulled at her clerical collar in a useless attempt to loosen it. She was sitting next to a giant hot-water bottle on the last and stickiest night of June.
“Yes. The chair recognizes Everett Daniels.”
A gangly, balding man stood up. “Back in ‘seventy six when they started making such a flap about PCBs, we were told we didn’t have anything to worry about because we were upstream from the factories in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls where they used the stuff. Are you telling us it’s now migrating upstream the Hudson and into the Millers Kill?”
“They did find elevated levels of PCB in our river, Everett. Now obviously, water doesn’t flow backwards. But we are awful close to the core contamination sites and our river joins up with the Hudson just a couple miles from where we’re sitting. The DEP folks don’t know yet if the stuff is coming in to the Kill from the wetlands or groundwater or what.”
A woman’s voice cracked through the air. “Why don’t you tell the truth? The stuff is coming from that damn storage dump we allowed in the quarry back in nineteen-seventy! And that new resort development is bringing up the chemical and letting it run straight downhill into town lands!”
“Mrs. Van Alstyne, I asked that everyone raise a hand to be recognized!”
Clare jerked in her seat. The only Van Alstyne she knew in town was Russ Van Alstyne, the chief of police. His wife was supposed to be gorgeous. She made a futile swipe at the damp pieces of hair that had fallen out of her twist and craned her neck for a better view.
A woman in her early seventies stood, sturdy as a fireplug and so short her tightly permed white hair barely cleared the head-tops around her. Clare tried to see the people sitting around. Where was Linda Van Alstyne?
“I was saying it back in ‘seventy and I’ll say it now, allowing that PCB dump was a big mistake. They said it was air-tight and leakproof and waved a chunk of money in front of the town council until the aldermen rolled over and said yes. Then they put the blasted thing in the old shale quarry, even though a high school geology teacher, which you were at the time, Jim Cameron, could have told them shale was a highly permeable rock!” She turned her head to address her neighbors. “That means it leaks!”
“I protested against it too, Mrs. Van Alstyne,” the mayor said.
Clare’s mental fog cleared away. That wasn’t Russ’ wife. “It’s his mother, she said under her breath. Paul looked at her curiously. She felt her cheeks grow warmer.
“The state cleaned up that site in seventy-nine,” Mayor Cameron continued. “Last tests show traces of PCB in the quarry, but they’re at acceptable levels.”
“Of course they are! The blasted stuff leaked away into the bedrock. Now comes along BWI Development and gives us the same song and dance, this time promising lots of money from the tourists and lots of jobs and what does the board do? Roll over and hand ‘em a permit to start plowing and blasting over fifty acres of Landry property. It’s been three months they’ve been working and suddenly we find PCB’s in the Dewitt Elementary playground. This stuff causes cancer and it’s in our playground!”
“Can we just stop the hysterics and stick to the facts!” An angular blond woman stood near the front row. In contrast to the Wednesday night casual dress of the rest of the crowd, she wore a suit so sharply cut it looked bulletproof. “Before we ever started construction we had to get a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection. It took them two years to grant it. Two years! They tested the quarry, they tested the water, they tested the damn trees, for all I know. The PCBs are at acceptable levels at the resort site. Acceptable. Levels. There may be more of the stuff in the river, but there’s no reason to act as if my property is some sort of Love Canal!”
“Damnit, Peggy, will you just wait your turn?”
She rounded on the mayor. “I came here tonight because I was told there was a motion to suspend construction due to the so-called PCB crisis.” She pointed toward the aldermen’s table. “My property was certified by the DEP. I have provided you with their environmental impact statements, which, if you bother to read, clearly states the development is within parameters approved by New York State. I have also provided you with copies of our zoning approval and our construction permits. Which documents you, gentlemen, issued only six months ago!”
The mayor turned away from the microphone and leaned over the wide wooden table. The four aldermen shoved in close, to hear whatever it was he was saying. They were shuffling papers like blackjack dealers. Clare nudged Paul. “Who’s the woman?” she whispered.
“Peggy Landry. She owns a huge chunk of land northwest of the town. She’s been trying to develop it for years, but she never had the wherewithall to do anything more than plow a few roads in. The only money she made off it came from paintball groups and back-to-nature nuts. You know, people who scoff at amenities like toilets, showers or cleared land for pitching tents.” He rolled his eyes. “She got a group out of Baltimore interested in the parcel a year or so ago. Before you came. They do spas, luxury resorts, that sort of thing. It was big news at the time because of the prospect of jobs for the town, of course. I didn’t realize they had already--”
Jim Cameron straightened up. “Application papers of Landry Properties, Inc. and BWI Development, a limited partnership,” he read from a sheaf of papers in his hand. “Okay, Peggy, the town isn’t going to suspend your construction permits,” Several in the crowd yelled angrily at this. Several others cheered. The mayor frowned. “I said, keep it down! Look, our lawyer tells us we don’t have the authority to stop properly permitted projects unless the state rules it is, in fact, violating DEP standards.”
“What about the possible release of more contaminants by the development!” Mrs. Van Alstyne said. “How much of that poison is stored in the rock, waiting to be let out when they start blasting? Anything they let loose is going to wash straight down the mountain into the town and the river!”
“Who’s going to pay for the clean-up?” someone asked from the crowd. “Seems like the Landrys will be making a pretty penny and we’ll be left holding the bill.”
Jim Cameron held up his hands. “People, if we can’t stick to the rule of order I’m calling this whole meeting off!”
A man stood up next to Peggy Landry, who was glaring at Mrs. Van Alstyne with enough venom to have caused a lesser woman to collapse back into her seat. “Mr. Mayor? May I say a few words?”
The mayor looked pathetically grateful that someone was recognizing Robert’s Rules. “Yes. The chair recognizes...”
“Bill Ingraham. BWI Development.” Cameron gestured to him to continue. Ingraham was thickly-set, of middle height and middle years, with the sunburnt skin of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors. He looked more like a plumbing contractor than a luxury spa developer to Clare’s eye, but then, she had never really met any luxury spa developers. “My partner and I--stand up, John, let the folks here get a look at you--” A smoothly-dressed corporate type stood, waved unenthusiastically, and vanished back into his seat. “John and I are here to create a new resort, the best cross between the old Adirondack mountain retreats and an up-to-the minute health spa. We want to build this because we think it’ll make us a whole lot of money.” There was a snort of laughter, quickly stifled, from the crowd. “I also think it’ll make your town a whole lot of money, because we see this as a destination resort, not a place to stay overnight while your visitor heads over to Saratoga during the day. This is gonna mean money spent in your town and jobs for people who live here, year-round jobs because this is gonna be a year-round resort.” There was a scattering of applause across the town hall. “John and I are putting our money where our mouth is in more ways than one. We’re sponsoring the Fourth of July road race this year and we’ve got plans for a skiing meet at one of the local mountains this winter. Eventually, we want to support a special event in each of the four seasons.” He rubbed his hands together theatrically. “Give those tourists a little incentive to get them into town and loosen their purse strings.”
There was even more laughter than there had been applause. Ingraham paused for a moment, and then went on. “I like this area. Don’t want to see it polluted any more than you do. And I’ll be frank with you. Our budget for the Algonquin Waters Resort and Spa does not include the costs of coming into compliance with the DEP. We had a run in with them once before, when we were co-contractors on a Georgia project that had PCB contamination. We’re still paying folks to dig sludge down there. It was a total loss. Now, we bought into this project based on the work Peggy had already done with the permitting. So here’s how we’re gonna handle it. If you all want to call in the state to retest out site because PCB levels have been rising several miles away, go ahead. But if the ruling goes against us, we’re shutting down. In my experience, once the government gets its teeth into things, it doesn’t let go until you’ve gotten a spot cleaner than it ever was originally. We don’t have the time or money to spend the next ten years chasing down stray leaks.”
“What?” Peggy Landry turned to Ingraham, clutching his arm. “You can’t-” the rest of what she had to say was lost as she sat down, hauling him down with her.
“Huh. It’ll certainly spoil her plans if the deal falls through,” Paul said. He shook his head. “Being an Adirondack land baron just isn’t what it used to be.” Throughout the room, rule abiding citizen waved their hands in the air and rule-ignoring ones called out questions.
Out of the corner of her eye, Clare caught the movement of the big double door swinging open. A tall man in a brown and tan uniform slipped through. He paused by the door, unobtrusive despite his size, and scanned the crowd. Clare quickly looked back at the front of the room, where a redhead in a nurses’ jacket was talking about the health effects of PCB. Clare had seen Russ Van Alstyne rarely, and mostly from a distance, since last December, when they had first struck up a friendship while unraveling the mystery surrounding an infant abandoned on the steps of St. Alban’s. It had been so easy, to talk and laugh and just be herself with him, without worrying about that man-woman thing because, after all, he was married. Very married, as she had told her church secretary. It still smarted that she had been so completely unaware of her own emotions all the while. She had been Saul on the road to Damascus, oblivious until a moment’s revelation struck her and she realized she had fallen for him but good. It was embarrassing, that’s what it was. It was embarrassing and something she was going to Get Over.
When Clare glanced back at him, he was looking straight at her. Even across the room she could see the summer sky blue of his eyes glinting beneath his glasses. Her face heated up as he continued to look at her, his thin lips quirking into something like a smile. She pasted a pleasant expression on her face and gave him a small wave. He glanced next to her, frowned, and then looked back at her. He pointed and mouthed something. What? she shrugged. He pointed again, more emphatically. She raised her eyebrows and jerked a thumb toward Paul Foubert, who was absorbed in whatever the nurse was saying. Russ nodded.
“I think Russ Van Alstyne wants to speak with you,” she said.
“Hmm? The chief? Where? I didn’t know he was at this meeting.”
“He wasn’t. Wednesday’s his regular patrol night. He’s just come in.”
“You know his schedule?” Paul looked at her, bemused.
“I’m good with schedules. Natural gift. Go on.”
Paul rose with a groan. “Probably one of the Alzheimer’s patients wandered off again.”
Clare resisted the urge to follow the nursing home director, although she was unable to keep herself from swiveling around to see what was happening. Russ looked serious. Grim. Washed out beneath the fluorescent lights despite his tan. He removed his steel-rimmed glasses when Paul reached him and took hold of the larger man’s shoulder, drawing him close. A thread of unease coiled through Clare’s stomach, then tightened sickeningly as Paul abruptly twisted away from Russ and sagged against the wall.
She was out of her chair and excusing herself down the crowded aisle by the time Russ caught her eye again, urgently jerking his head in a summons. Paul was leaning on the town hall bulletin board, his face turned toward a pink paper announcing summer dump hours, his huge fists clenched and shaking.
“What is it?” she said quietly. “What’s wrong?”
“Emil,” Paul said. “Attacked.”
She looked up at Russ. “Emil?”
He put his glasses on. “Emil Dvorak. Our medical examiner.” His thin lips flattened. “A friend of mine. He was found a while ago on Route 121. Looks like his car hit something and went off the road.” Russ pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. “He was attacked. Beaten bad. He’s in the Glens Falls Hospital right now.” He tilted his head toward Paul. “Emil is Paul’s, um, friend.”
“Dear God.” Clare pressed her hand against Paul’s shoulder, then moved closer, draping her other arm across his back. “Oh, Paul. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” She had known Paul lived with someone, but he had never mentioned anyone by name in their conversations at the nursing home. She looked at Russ. “We came to the meeting together. I’ll take him to the hospital.”
“I can get there, I’m okay,” Paul said in a reedy voice, an oddly small sound coming from such a big man. Clare’s heart ached. He straightened up and looked around as if he had never seen the town hall before.
“No, Clare’s right. You shouldn’t try to drive, Paul.” Russ ran his hand through his shaggy brown hair. “I have to stop at the station.” He looked down at Clare. “Can you find the Glens Falls Hospital?” She nodded. “Okay, I’ll meet you there.”
Russ held the door open for them as Clare steered Paul out of the meeting hall. Despite the hot air rolling off the street below, she shivered as she caught Russ’s last, whispered direction: “Hurry.”
“Spencer-Fleming’s second cozy-cum-thriller to feature the Reverend Clare Fergusson...is every bit as riveting as her first...with eloquent exposition and natural dialogue, the precisely constructed plot moves effortlessly to its dramatic conclusion.”
—Publisher’s Weekly starred review
Miller's Kill, New York is about as safe as it gets. That's why Episcopal minister Clare Fergusson is shocked when the July Fourth weekend brings a rash of vicious assaults to the scenic town. Even Clare's good friend, police chief Russ Van Alstyne, is shaken by the brutality of the crimes-especially when it appears that the victims were chosen because they are gay. But when a third assault of an out-of-town developer ends in murder, Clare and Russ wonder if the recent crime wave is connected to the victim's controversial plan to open an upscale spa in Miller's Kill. But not all things in the tiny town are what they seem-and soon, Clare and Russ are left to fight their unspoken attraction to one another even as they uncover a labyrinthine conspiracy that threatens to turn deadly for them both...